Santhara and the harm that theologies do

Last week the media was agog over the judgment given by the Rajasthan High court declaring the Jain practice of Santhara, which involves a voluntary fast-unto-death, an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code. Most of the articles I read were highly critical of the judgment saying that Santhara cannot be equated with suicide. They argue that it is a religious practice prevalent over centuries and is entirely voluntary. They claim that in contrast to the act of suicide, it’s a peaceful way of laying down one’s body under the guidance of a Guru. The belief among Jains is that a person going through Santhara attains Moksha.

I have a slightly different take on this. I support the judgment. I’ll explain why. Let us examine the root causes for such superstitious beliefs or practices in any society. The answer lies in theology. Theologies, the world over, have played havoc with the lives of the gullible people. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (word). It’s the study of the nature of God and religious belief. Theology is airy-fairy stuff (myth is perhaps a more decent way of describing it!) that interests theologians, but normal people get sucked into the belief system due to the absolute control the religious institutions have on them.Theologies and the religions thrive on a system of concepts, ideas and rigid beliefs. The non-believers are asked to either fall in line or face the consequences. Fear among the followers is the main driver for the spread of such irrational religious practices.
The result is that today every religion has several theologies. We have the Christian theologies, the Hindu theologies and Muslim theologies. If one religion talks about swarg and narak or Vaikunt or Kailas as the destinations after death,another one would talk about paradise. Yet another one would promise heaven for a believer who kills people in the name of their God.

As long as a belief system doesn’t harm a person concerned or others physically, the state can be a silent spectator. The beliefs Swarg, narak, vaikunt, Kailas, paradise etc fall into this category. The damage is limited to the extent of performing several meaningless rituals. However, the state has to intervene if the faith leads to loss of lives of people in a society.
There is an essential difference between religion and spirituality. While religion is rooted in beliefs, spirituality has its premise in understanding and experiencing. For instance, Vedanta encourages one to experience God in every experience – good and bad – and see the essential oneness.
The prevalence of religious practices such as Santhara only indicates complete bankruptcy of spirituality. One only hopes that the judgment will be an eye opener for those practicing such blind religious faiths.

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Published in: on August 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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